As a birth doula, I work with some pretty fantastic parents, both newbies and veterans. I like to devote a large portion of time before labor to help mom and dad/partner decide on their birth preferences and how to communicate them in a concise manner. From time to time, one or both parents will ask the question, “Will you keep __________ (Grandma, Aunt, Dad, Sister, etc.) out of my labor room?”
I have to be honest and tell you that, as a newer doula, I agreed to do that…but it only took a couple of awkward situations for me to realize that’s not a good idea. Let’s look at some practical reasons why.
- It’s not a good use of a doula’s time -- or your money. When I’m at a birth, mom is my entire focus. I want to see how she handles contractions: Is she following her body’s urges to move around? Is she using her energy to breathe deeply and find her rhythm? Is she staying hydrated and emptying her bladder? Is her partner engaged and connected with mom? If I have to pull bouncer duty, I’m more anxious about keeping people out instead of helping mom manage her labor. And the labor room is no place for anxiety.
- It isn’t fair to that family member to let him/her think your birth will be a spectator sport. Imagine if Grandma believes for the entire pregnancy she will have a ringside seat to this birth, only to be told by a stranger that isn’t going to happen. It isn’t pretty, and it sets up some mighty thick tension for the postpartum period.
- It usurps a portion of dad’s/partner’s role in the birth process. Let’s face it: birth is something only a pregnant woman can do, so dad/partner may already be wondering, “What’s my role?” While certainly not the only role during labor, it is enormously helpful for communication to family members to come from dad/partner.
I was recently at a birth where mom was experiencing painful back labor, and dad and I were helping her change positions and applying counter-pressure to her sacrum. The door burst open, and Grandma charged in with two bags of very pungent takeout food. Poor mom had one whiff and barely made it to the bathroom before she was sick. I looked dad in the eye and gave him a slight nod. He told Grandma thanks for thinking of them while leading her to the door and promising updates by text. In this situation, I used my role as doula to encourage dad to protect the laboring mom's comfort.
Most family members really do want to follow parents’ wishes for their labor and birth, so take time to communicate before labor begins! It will free up your doula to focus solely on mom; it will prevent anxiety and stress; and it will stave off any hurt feelings from those family members.
Sherri Wilkerson LCCE, CD(DONA) is a Lamaze childbirth educator, a DONA birth doula, and a placenta encapsulator. She is the owner of A Better Birth Doula Services in the metro Atlanta area.You can contact her or learn more about her services at www.sherriwilkerson.com.